Council for World Mission June 2016

Reflections on….

I had the opportunity to represent the URC at the Council for World Mission (CWM) which was held on the beautiful island of Jeju just off the South Korean peninsula. The Assembly was hosted by the Presbyterian Church of Korea. There was also a pre-assembly for the young people. Every Assembly provides CWM with the opportunity to give an account of the hope which is within us all and to reflect and celebrate God’s work in creation and seek life in all its fullness.

The theme of the 2016 Assembly was Healing: Hope in Action, which was a continuation of the 2012 Assembly of Hope: The Language of Love. CWM’s values and principles are guided by the following values: justice in relationships, mutuality, equality and interdependence, generosity of spirit and unity in diversity.

The young people drew on the analogy of an umbrella by which CWM offers protection to people in all the regions. Most importantly the umbrella protects against ‘hopelessness’ and the young people saw themselves as the generation to bring about healing and hope. CWM believes that the future belongs to God, and that as we are committed to God, they join with all their partners on a journey of hope for a world which is healed through the actions of the people of God.

The journey to the beautiful island of Jeju was long and consisted of three different flights and then travelling by bus for 1½ hours before arriving at our destination. I started off from home on 16th June at around 1 p.m. and arrived on 17th June around 9.30 p.m.

The following day we had orientation and immersion visits to various areas on the island. We were allocated a coach and my coach was booked to visit Gangjeong Village which maintains a constant prayer, fasting and struggle against the construction of the controversial Jeju Naval Base project. The building of the base is seen as an enhancement of South Korean defence systems. The government has said that the naval base would have minimum impact and it would create jobs and help the economy.  However, in 2006, Jeju was designated as an ‘island of peace’, so Gangjeong Village has become a symbol of the peace movement.

The politics of empire and the hurt remain as very powerful reminders when we see that, despite local and international protest against the construction of the naval base, the work continues. We were informed that the continued protest has resulted in the building work being halted on several occasions. However, while we were there work was continuing and the construction of the base seemed almost complete. For the people of Jeju and the community of Gangjeong there still remains a need for healing and reconciliation.

We then visited the Peace Park and Museum that stands amidst the mass graves of those who died at the hands of their oppressors and those who invaded their land.  In 1945, after liberation from the Japanese rule, Jeju suffered under the hands of the military troops in conflict with an armed guerrilla band. Up to 30,000 lost their lives during what became known as the ‘3rd April Incident’. The island’s past history questions the need for heightened security as an ‘island of peace’ which poses no threat to its neighbours, except for its strategic position.

On Sunday we were all transported to various churches on the island. I had the privilege to preach at the Hanlim Church. We were made very welcome and had a meal with all the members of the congregation after the service, which was customary.

The rest of the Assembly consisted of morning worship, thought- provoking bible study, sub-theme discussions and working groups. In between all this, there was the election of a new Board of Directors, Moderator and Treasurer (congratulations to our very own John Ellis). The business usually overran into the free time.

On reflection there were two issues which changed the focus of the Assembly for me. One was quite minor and it was about sharing rooms. I will share more perhaps in a session on John 14:1-4. The second was major. On the first day of business the list of people who were chosen to be members of the ‘Listening and Discernment Group’ had their names displayed on the screen. To my surprise there I was, the second name on the list. (I had not been consulted so I had no indication that this was coming.)

I believe listening was (still is) one of my key skills but you never believe that other people can see these things in you. So, once I got over the initial surprise, I really got involved in ‘reading the silences between the sentences’. It was hard work as there were early breakfast meetings and we worked through dinner and lunch to try and draw up a form of words to reflect what the voices had been saying to Assembly over the days together.

There were two really challenging sessions and I was pleased that they were in the form of DVD presentations, as the lights were dimmed so no one could see the tears. One session, led by Rev Dr Raheb, took us through a heart-breaking journey of the reality of what the Palestinian people have to face on a daily basis just to get to work. The wall in Bethlehem is a barrier which affects people literally as well as metaphorically. It was hard to see what options or alternatives there were for this situation but Rev Raheb called for the church ‘to engage a spirituality that challenges the imperial theology; employs creativity as a tool which dismantles the ‘software’ of empire thinking; and one that nurtures hope.’ Faith is about hope and hope is the imagination to see the alternatives.

The second was the presentation about the context in which we were meeting. The Presbyterian Church of Korea shared with us the testimonies of the separated families of the Korean War and the Halmoni women who were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese in the Second World War. These stories of pain, oppression and violence have now become stories of hope as the victims are no longer silent.

The Butterfly Fund supports female victims of sexual violence in armed conflict. “Butterfly” represents the wish that all women in agony, including victims of Japanese military sexual slavery, would be able to spread their wings free from discrimination, repression and violence. Everyone was given a butterfly badge as a gift.

The context in which we met historically has lived through conflict, oppression and the impact of empire. The artificial division of this peninsula has created more problems than it has solved and issues around the division of North and South Korea still remain today. However, there is a call for the reunification of Korea.

As such, the Mission Committee of the URC will be presenting a resolution to General Assembly on the peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula. The resolution, along with the World Council of Churches, affirmed support to seek reconciliation and restoration of families and communities divided by conflict and hostility. “For he is our peace; who has made the two into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (Ephesians 2:14)

Alongside all the themes which were discussed at Assembly, CWM called on each member church to interpret their context in the light of the broad themes which have been identified to guide the missional agenda. The themes are all ones which affect God’s creation and are inter-connected. Whilst the themes are not intended to prescribe the work of member churches it is hoped they will influence the way in which churches develop programmes which move them to becoming truly missional. The nine themes are:

  • Children and young people
  • Economic justice
  • Climate change
  • Evangelism
  • Human trafficking
  • Interfaith relations and ecumenism
  • Inclusive communities against de-humanising social
  • Militarisation and conflict
  • Worship and discipleship

The themes are quite telling as they are developed from within a world which is broken and requires healing.  Hope points us to a future where healing begins with God in the present. The actions which are required are needed here and now … as we live out our lives as agents of peace and reconciliation in our communities.